If you're new to the sport of dog agility, then head to the Crook County Fairgrounds this weekend, Sept. 27-29, for the Mt. Bachelor Kennel Club's Fall Agility Trials. Watch dogs weave through poles, leap over jumps or charge through tunnels on timed courses. Besides speed, the challenging courses require the dogs and owners to be quick thinking and precise in their movements. But it's not all about winning.
- Chris McLeod
- This agility dog makes a clean leap over an obstacle.
"It can be tough because you've got a basset hound running against a border collie," said Sandy Lachowski, MBKC show chairman, with a laugh. "Winning isn't everything in dog agility; we just love dogs and doing things with our dogs." In agility competitions, dogs are separated into different classes not by breed, but by height at their withers. Dogs from Chihuahuas to Great Danes compete.
A nonprofit member club of the American Kennel Club, MBKC's mission is to be a positive and active presence in the Central Oregon community, promoting and demonstrating responsible dog ownership. They do this through dog-related education, support of other organizations with similar intent and by hosting competitive events. Perhaps better known for their rally and confirmation dog shows, Lachowski and her volunteers lead the club's charge for agility.
"The bulk of our entrants are from Central Oregon and I love to give our local people a local venue to compete in," said Lachowski. The event also attracts competitors from other regions such as southern Oregon and Idaho.
The trials include various categories, such as Standard, Jumper, Fifteen and Send Time (FAST), and Time 2 Beat. Standard includes obstacles such as A-frames, seesaws, tunnels, weave poles, pause tables and more, while the Jumper category removes obstacles except for jumps and weave poles to encourage speed. FAST is a free-form course with obstacles and a "send bonus" section where handlers direct their dogs through obstacles.
"The dogs can do all the courses or just one, whatever the owner wants their dog to do," added Lachowski. Levels include Novice, Open and Excellent. "Novice is for dogs new to agility or a course and they can make mistakes but still qualify," said Lachowski.
Organizers expect over 75 competitors for the event, with some owners having more than one dog in the competition. Sandy Schneider, a member of Bend Agility Action Dogs, will be competing with her four-year-old Shetland sheepdog, Thor.
"To enjoy the sport, you have to enjoy breaking things down into little steps and just having fun," explained Schneider, who's been involved since the '90s. "It's about positivity, learning to better communicate with your dog and finding joy in the journey," added Schneider.
- Chris McLeod
- An agility competitor is posed to run the tunnel.
Chris McLeod, dog trainer and owner of Canine Pursuits in Bend, started in agility with her Brittany spaniel, Calico. "She was the dog from hell as a puppy," McLeod said. "I needed an outlet for her and the obedience trainer I went to had six pieces of agility equipment. I tried it and was hooked." McLeod's Brittany went on to be the third Brittany in America to achieve MACH3, Master Agility Champion, status. "She was a really great dog after I found agility training," added McLeod.
Trainers and competitors say the benefits to dog agility include human-dog bonding and providing the owners with an outlet, be it social or physical.
Whereas the MBKC is associated with the AKC, the BAAD club is a member of the United States Dog Agility Association, Inc., which organized in 1986 to promote international standards for dog agility. Both groups host competitions twice each year.
"I love doing agility training with my Aussies because it increases their self-confidence, is great exercise for all of us, and because my dogs love it," said Elizabeth Hughes Weide, MBKC publicity chair for the event. "The dogs work off-leash in the agility courses which reinforces their obedience training, recall and focus. All these activities deepen the relationship between us and our dogs."
For Lachowski this training and relationship building is especially challenging with her three-year-old Rhodesian ridgeback, Mamba. "The ridgebacks are lion hounds, trained to hunt lions, and they have to make their own decisions as they work away from people."
Spectators may attend the free event and enjoy the action. One item that Lachowski stressed, in order to minimize chaos, is asking that non-competition dogs be left home, because they get just as excited as their owners watching the agility dogs run their courses.
Mt. Bachelor Kennel Club Fall Agility Trials
Fri., Sept. 27-Sun., Sept. 29
Crook County Fairgrounds Indoor Arena, Prineville
Free to watch